Anxiety disorders affect over 18 percent of U.S. adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This includes generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more.
Anxiety can work its way into many aspects of a person’s life, which is why it’s so important to find the resources, support, and advice you need — whether it comes from people’s stories, helpful phone apps, or expert advice.
Dr. Jill Stoddard is the founding director of The Center for Stress & Anxiety Management, an outpatient clinic in San Diego specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety and related issues. She’s also an associate professor of psychology at Alliant International University, and the co-author of “The Big Book of ACT Metaphors.”
We caught up with her to learn about some of the ways she recommends for managing anxiety disorders.
Dr. Jill Stoddard’s advice for anxiety
1. Use your senses
Anxiety narrows your focus onto perceived threats (i.e., whatever you’re feeling afraid of or worried about in the moment) which can impact your focus and memory. Practice mindfully broadening your view by using your senses — what do you see, hear, smell, etc. — to improve attention and experience.
2. Have gratitude
Practice gratitude as another way to broaden your focus. There are the things that you worry about, and there are also the things you’re grateful for.
3. Be accepting
Difficulty with uncertainty and a lack of perceived control amplify anxiety. To “fix” this, we often attempt to get more certainty and more control — for example, by doing internet searches about health symptoms. This actually increases anxiety in the long run.
The antidote is acceptance of uncertainty and control. You can read a book or watch a sporting event without knowing the ending. In fact, it’s the anticipation that makes it exciting! So try bringing this attitude of openness to not knowing, and letting go of control. See what happens.
4. Face your fears
Avoidance is anything you do, or don’t do, to feel less anxious and prevent a feared outcome from occurring. For example, avoiding a social situation, using drugs or alcohol, or procrastination are all examples of avoidance.
When you avoid what you’re afraid of, you get short-term relief. However, this relief never lasts, and before you know it, that anxiety has returned, often with feelings of sadness or shame for having avoided it. And often, the exact avoidance strategies you’re using to feel better and prevent a feared outcome (e.g. reading off your notes during a speech or avoiding eye contact) actually create the outcome you’re trying to avoid (namely, appearing anxious or incompetent).
Consider taking small steps to start facing your fears. What’s one thing you might do that takes you out of your comfort zone? You will build mastery and confidence, and your anxiety might even diminish in the process.
5. Define your values
Do some soul searching about what really matters to you. Who do you want to be? What do you want to stand for? What qualities do you wish to embody as you engage in work or school, or interact with people you care about? If friendship matters, how can you create space in your life for that? When you do so, what qualities do you wish to embody as you spend time with friends? Do you wish to be authentic? Compassionate? Assertive?
These are all values, and making choices in line with values — rather than in the service of avoidance — may or may not impact your anxiety, but will definitely add richness, vitality, and meaning to your life.
To help you keep your anxiety in check, Healthline also recommends trying out the following products in your day to day:
- Add some lavender essential oil to your lotions and soaps, use as an air freshener, or rub small diluted amounts onto your neck or feet.
- Take Kavinace supplements, which can help with anxiety-related sleep issues.
- Try practicing self-guided meditations that emphasize self-compassion.
- Get some relaxing sounds from the Stress Relief Collection.
- Check out biofeedback therapy. Some people find it to be an effective tool in managing anxiety. Use the BCIA directory to find a certified practitioner.
Dr. Jill Stoddard received her PhD in clinical psychology from Boston University where she trained at the highly regarded Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders under the mentorship of Dr. David Barlow. She completed an APA-accredited internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the UCSD School of Medicine. Thereafter, she worked as a staff psychologist at the San Diego Veterans Hospital in the primary care and post-traumatic stress clinics. She’s the founding director of CSAM and an associate professor of psychology at Alliant International University. Dr. Stoddard has presented her research at professional conferences and co-authored articles on CBT, ACT, social phobia, panic disorder, late-life anxiety, chronic pain, noncardiac chest pain, and surgical anxiety. She’s a member of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy, and the Association for Contextual and Behavioral Sciences.